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Lawmakers and Michigan Environmental Council weigh in on plastic bag bill

Lawmakers and Michigan Environmental Council weigh in on plastic bag bill

The Michigan Senate voted Tuesday to ban local governments from placing regulations on the sale of plastic bags and food containers.

Those behind Senate Bill 853 say any regulations should be left up to the state, but others disagree.

"Like the bottle deposit law that we have for pop bottles and other beverages, if your goal is to get rid of them or to change how people purchase them, I personally believe it should be done on a statewide basis," said Senator Wayne Schmidt, (R) 37th District.

Schmidt is one of the sponsors of the bill and says allowing individual municipalities to ban or regulate the use of plastic bags and food containers could hurt certain businesses.

"Because for example, lets say where I live, if the City of Traverse City were to say plastic bags for example...were no longer allowed for retailers to use them, that hurts retailers within the city limits because maybe the surrounding townships choose not to do that," said Schmidt. "And so you put businesses at a competitive disadvantage in terms of what their customers want."

He says any ban or regulation should be on a state-wide basis.

The Michigan Environmental Council is strongly opposing the bill.

"We don't think that states should be preempting local governments from taking action if the state itself is not addressing the problem," said Kate Madigan, a northern Michigan representative for the Environmental Council.

That problem, according to Madigan are things like plastic bags causing litter.

In 2015 Madigan says a cleanup group picked up more than 4,000 plastic bags on Michigan Great Lakes beaches alone.

"In Washtenaw County for example, they spend $200,000 a year to address the plastic bags gumming up their recycling machinery," said Madigan. "Some recycling facilities can't handle plastic bags."

Some communities in the state have already discussed regulating these plastic products, but no ordinances have been passed yet, according to the Michigan Environmental Council.

Some of the ideas include requiring businesses that give out the plastic bags and food containers to also accept them in return to recycle.

The Village Market in Elk Rapids asks each customer if they prefer paper or plastic grocery bags.

"More people choose paper," said Jenny Sobbry, a store manager.

Customers are also encouraged to bring their own paper or cloth bags. In return they get five cents off their grocery bill, for every bag they bring in.

Customers using their own bags and boxes is a growing trend, according to Sobbry.

"I've noticed it more and I don't even cashier that much anymore," she said. "So it does make a difference. I think everybody's just trying to pay attention to that."

Schmidt isn't aware of any current state-wide efforts to ban or regulate the plastic bags and containers. He says he doesn't think it's the product choice that contributes to the littering problem as much as it is the people who are doing the littering.

"It doesn't matter if it's a Styrofoam container, a cardboard box, a tin can, if people don't dispose of them properly, that's the problem," said Schmidt.

According to the Michigan Environmental Council, California and Hawaii have already banned the products.

Senate Bill 853 now heads to the house for a vote.

The Michigan Environmental Council says it will continue to oppose the bill.

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